Toronto’s Sunrise Propane explosion trial lays blame on company brass

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Toronto’s Sunrise Propane explosion trial lays blame on company brass

On an early August morning in 2008, a massive fireball engulfed a community in northern Toronto, setting the sky ablaze for the entire city to see, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents and killing one man – an employee of the propane company at the heart of the explosion.

For five years the residents of that neighbourhood had no one to blame, the family of the victim, Parminder Saini, had nothing tangible to hold onto to understand his death. Culpability was placed nowhere, as if massive propane explosions simply happen from time to time. Five years later, there is an answer.

On Thursday, the Sunrise Propane Energy Group was found guilty of a list of offences, from failing to provide a safe workplace to failing to adhere to Ontario's environmental protection laws.

The Canadian Press reports the company and two directors were found guilty of nine provincial charges connected to the explosion and subsequent cleanup. It is, perhaps, the most visible example of a company being held responsible the safety of an employee in recent memory.

[ Related: Sunrise Propane found guilty in Toronto explosion ]

Thanks to the tragic and spectacular explosion at the centre of the Sunrise Propane case, it has quickly become a flashpoint for corporate responsibility. At the heart of the matter is the training given to deceased staffer Parminder Saini and the dangerous job he was doing.

An Ontario judge found that the company and its directors directly responsible for Saini’s death. It said Saini was insufficiently trained, and insufficiently supervised. Crown lawyers had argued, in short, he had been sent to do a dangerous task without the knowhow to do it safely.

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The explosion came after gas vapours combusted during a truck-to-truck propane transfer – a risky practice companies including Sunrise Propane had been told to stop.

During the trial, lawyers for Shay Ben-Moshe and Valery Belahov argued they shouldn't be blamed, claiming the company provided safe equipment and proper training. They also claimed the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, an industry regulation board, was aware truck-to-truck transfers were ongoing.

Following the explosion, Sunrise representatives were ghosts. Insurance companies were slow to respond. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority, named in a class-action lawsuit, is said to have known the dangerous truck-to-truck transfers were ongoing and did nothing. At least, according to the defendants.

With Thursday’s decision, so many questions have been answered. Culpability has been placed. The company faces millions of dollars worth of fines. And a long-scarred community has some level of closure.